Ecological Implications of Climate Change on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Yellowstone Science is a publication devoted to Yellowstone's natural and cultural resources - that features research on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). This issue of Yellowstone Science is dedicated to climate change research in the park and surrounding area, and relays current findings of regional impacts due to changes in climate.

The GYE encompasses approximately 58,000 square miles with an elevational gradient from 1,713–13,800 ft. representing 14 mountain ranges. Due to the complex mountain topography and steep elevational gradients, weather is highly variable across the region. For analysis purposes, the region is home to some of the longest running records of temperature and precipitation anywhere in the U.S., with some weather stations initiated in 1895.

The articles available include:

  • Ecological Implications of Climate Change in Yellowstone: Moving into Uncharted Territory?
  • Historic & Projected Climate Change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
  • Trends in Yellowstone’s Snowpack
  • Water in the Balance: Interpreting Climate Change Impacts Using a Water Balance Model
  • Changing Climate Suitability for Forests in Yellowstone & the Rocky Mountains
  • Monitoring Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Wetlands: Can Long-term Monitoring Help Us Understand Their Future?
  • Birds of the Molly Islands: The “Boom & Bust” Nesting Cycle Turns “Bust Only”
  • The Rolling Stones of Soda Butte Creek

The impacts of climate change on the GYE are described across all of the articles.  The following are some of the prominent findings: 

  • Within the GYE, major climate related disturbance events have changed the system’s ecology, such as increased mountain pine beetle attacks, wildfire events, and reduced annual snowpack.
  • One summary of projected climate suggests “the future will experience temperatures higher than any time in the warm periods of the Holocene. This rapid temperature change can result in substantial reductions in snowpack and stream runoff and increases in stream temperature, fire frequency, and mortality of currently dominant tree species. One possible future is for the system to move into a new state with little summer snow, very low stream flows, frequent and severe fire, and switch from forest-dominated vegetation to desert scrub vegetation.”
  • The climate suitability for forests of the GYE are projected to change substantially in the coming century. Generally, vegetation types are projected to shift upward in elevation, and sagebrush and juniper communities will expand from valley bottoms upslope into the lower forest zone and the Yellowstone Plateau. Whitebark pine was projected to have the greatest loss in area of suitable habitat in the GYE.
  • Wetlands within parts of the GYE, specifically Yellowstone’s Northern Range, are shrinking or drying as a consequence of recent temperature and precipitation trends. Monitoring data suggest chronic repetition of dry, warm years could lead to a decline in upwards of 40% of the region’s wetlands.



Publication Date: April 9, 2015


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Climate science

States Affected:


  • Air temperature
  • Invasive species and pests
  • Precipitation changes
  • Water supply

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